In general, my recommendation is to work your plan one week at a time. (Here I am focusing on change at the individual level…if you are leading your organization through change, much of what I am offering here can be applied–with some translation–as well.)
Momentum is important during change. Move too fast and you may get all of the pieces in place, but never achieve the actual outcomes that you are seeking. Move too slow, and your change is likely to grind to a halt.
Taking a week-by-week approach, with your installation (what you are putting in place) and realization (what you are actually setting out to achieve) milestones in mind helps to maintain momentum. Think about it. In the next month I am going to update my resume doesn’t quite drive action the same way as This week I am going to make 15 networking calls.
You may or may not have any realization milestones that you plan to meet each week; you should definitely have installation milestones for yourself. Quoting from Wikipedia, “A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary…Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination.”
Using milestones on a weekly basis allows you to know not only that you are actively doing things, but that you are on “the proper path.”
So why not create milestones for every day?
Generally, unless you are in a position to control virtually every aspect of your day, daily milestones become burdensome; they are too easy to not achieve as other day-to-day things come up; and, the discouragement of not achieving them can drain energy and actually get in the way of forward momentum.
That being said, I will sometimes work with a client to create “buckets of activity,” with the goal of accomplishing something out of each bucket on a daily basis. For example, someone who is looking to build a brand presence using social media might have one bucket for Twitter, one for LinkedIn, one for their business’s Facebook page, etc. Rather than spending every spare minute for a week strengthening their LinkedIn presence–and losing connection with their followers on the other media–my recommendation is to ensure that they do at least one thing out of each of the other buckets every day as well.
Your weekly milestones allow you flexibility over when you undertake your change-related tasks. If today is lost to unexpected overtime at work, or unanticipated disruptions at home (or both), you still have the remainder of the week to complete the work that you have set out for yourself.
What happens if, week after week, you are not meeting your milestones? If you find yourself in this situation, it is likely that one of two things is going on.
- You are setting your weekly expectations too aggressively relative to what you are able to deliver. You either need to re-calibrate your expectations of what you can get done in a week, or you need to look at what you can take off the plate so that you can meet your targets. Then, you need to actually take things off the plate!
- Your change is a good idea, but not imperative. The other things in your life that are taking your time, energy, focus, etc. away from this change outweigh the importance of the change you are working on. It is time to either lower your expectations for this change, or to put it aside.
If, on the other hand, you are completing everything you have set out to achieve mid-week each week, you should be accelerating your plan.
There is another reason to work your plan one week at a time…things don’t always go as planned. I am currently working with a client whose “buckets” include addressing certain aspects of his health. When he encountered an unanticipated delay in his surgery he had two choices…push his entire plan back by months, or accelerate other aspects of the plan to fill in the intervening weeks. My encouragement is, always, to maintain the forward momentum.
Finally, working your plan one week at a time helps you maintain your boundaries. It tells you when to take a break and rest for the next week; it helps you to avoid burn-out. When the only thing that we have in mind is the desired end state, the urge to be constantly working can drive us in unhealthy ways. Being able to say, I have accomplished what I set out to do this week. I am proud of myself, and can see the progress. And, now I deserve a break, is a much healthier approach.
For a mini-case study of how I applied this approach to a major change in my life, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your experience when working your change plans? Please comment, and/or add your own story.